Rep. Jim Gerlach (R)
Pennsylvania 6th District
The gentle hills of southeastern Pennsylvania, settled in the 18th century by Quaker townsmen, Welsh farmers, German peasants, and members of pietistic sects who became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, were America’s first polyglot interior. Before and after independence, a diverse lot looking for tolerance in the area above Philadelphia and the Delaware River found a land that yielded riches, first in crops, then in ironworking and other industry. Valley Forge is where Gen. George Washington and his men spent the terrible winter and spring of 1777-78, while the British luxuriated in Philadelphia 25 miles away. In Revolutionary times, the area was countryside, a long day’s ride from the markets and docks of Philadelphia. Then, rail lines were built from Philadelphia: The Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad headed west to industrial Pittsburgh and the Midwest, and the Reading Railroad headed northwest to Reading and the anthracite coalfields beyond. Factories were built in some of the towns here, and many farms continued to thrive, but by the late 19th century some of this land had become commuter territory.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The most lavish Philadelphia suburbs were built on the Main Line, where in mansions shaded by huge trees, Philadelphia’s captains of commerce could get respite from the rowhouses and narrow streets of the city. By the late 20th century, highways and giant shopping centers had sprung up. This was affluent suburbia for the masses, or a large part of them. Prosperity even came to some of the factory towns. Reading, the decaying industrial town described in John Updike’s Rabbit novels, in the 1970s was the site of the first factory outlet store, when a company called Vanity Fair began selling seconds and overruns of stockings and lingerie at wholesale prices.
The 6th Congressional District of Pennsylvania includes parts of this countryside in Chester County, which has about 40% of the population, and Berks and Montgomery counties, with 30% each. Chester County has the highest median income levels in Pennsylvania and is its fastest growing major county, though mushroom farming remains abundant. The boundaries of the 6th District are irregular. Geographically, the main body of the district is northern Chester County, including Coatesville, Downingtown and Phoenixville, and southern Berks County. The district also includes a salient that runs northward in eastern Berks County, with its rapidly growing exurbs. Another, much more heavily populated salient reaches into Montgomery County from Pottstown to Lower Merion Township, which is home to some of Philadelphia’s wealthiest people. The district includes Valley Forge, with its American Revolution Center, part but not all of Reading, and most of the Main Line suburbs: Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, and part of Paoli. Until the 1990s, the area had been heavily Republican, and the district was drawn for a Republican. But the suburbs of Philadelphia, like those in other large metropolitan areas, have trended to the Democrats since 2000. Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry carried it 51%-48% in 2004. Barack Obama won it 58%-41% in 2008. He led comfortably in each of the three counties, illustrative of his strong showing in the Philadelphia suburbs.
Rep. Jim Gerlach (R)
Elected: 2002, 4th term.
Born: Feb. 25, 1955, Ellwood City .
Home: Chester Springs.
Education: Dickinson Col., B.A. 1977, J.D. 1980.
Family: Married (Karen); 6 children.
Elected office: PA House of Reps., 1990-94; PA Senate, 1994-2002.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1980-2002.
The congressman from the 6th District is Jim Gerlach, a Republican elected in 2002. He grew up in Ellwood City, Penn., midway between Pittsburgh and Youngstown, Ohio. He graduated from Dickinson College and its law school, just west of Harrisburg. He continued moving east, settled in Chester County and practiced law. He was elected to the state House in 1990 and to the state Senate in 1994. When Republicans in 2002 created a new district in suburban Philadelphia, Gerlach was the obvious intended beneficiary. He had spirited competition from Democrat Dan Wofford, a former adviser to Democratic Gov. Robert Casey. Wofford had not previously run for office, but his name was well known; his father, Harris Wofford, was elected to the Senate in a 1991 special election. Gerlach ran on his legislative accomplishments, including votes to expand Pennsylvania’s prescription drug program for low-income seniors. Wofford attacked Gerlach as a career politician. They disagreed on abortion and Medicare. Polls showed the race close, and national Republicans spent more than $1.5 million on ads for Gerlach. The outcome was not clear until the early morning hours. Gerlach won 51%-49%.
|Jim Gerlach (R)||179,423||(52%)||($2,310,342)|
|Bob Roggio (D)||164,952||(48%)||($663,236)|
|Jim Gerlach (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (51%), 2004 (51%), 2002 (51%)
In the House, Gerlach’s voting record is mostly moderate though more conservative on foreign policy. He was a strong supporter of Bush-era tax cuts and eliminating the marriage penalty in the tax code, but he opposed the Bush administration’s proposal to create personal retirement accounts in Social Security.
In October 2005, his late vote helped Republican leaders to win narrow passage of a bill to facilitate construction of new oil refineries. When anti-war activists targeted his support for Bush’s troop surge in Iraq in 2007, Gerlach said that the Democrats’ withdrawal timetable sent the wrong message to enemies. In 2009, he termed President Barack Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill “massive, wasteful government spending,” and he called for Pennsylvania to create a bipartisan oversight board to monitor the state’s share of the money. But Gerlach bucked his party in 2007 by supporting a Democratic plan to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. In April 2005, the House passed his bill to improve access to services for non-members, as well as members, of federal credit unions.
Gerlach has been a prime Democratic target in recent elections. In 2004, he faced Democratic attorney Lois Murphy, who managed Rendell’s 2002 campaign in Montgomery County. A former staffer for NARAL ProChoice America, she received strong support from the women’s fundraising group EMILY’s List and criticized Gerlach for a lack of leadership in Congress. The well-financed Murphy made it an unexpectedly close contest, but Gerlach won, again by 51%-49%. Two years later, Murphy ran again with strong encouragement from EMILY’s List and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She was better-known and the issues were similar, but the campaign rhetoric was harsher. Gerlach may have benefited from more aggressive attacks by his campaign on alleged inconsistencies in Murphy’s agenda. And he accused her of supporting a tax increase on the wealthy. For the third consecutive election, Gerlach won by 51%-49%. In 2008, Gerlach had a more than 3-to-1 fundraising advantage over Democrat Robert Roggio, a retired corporate executive. But he still managed only a 52%-48% win. Republicans could be hard-pressed to hold this district now that Gerlach has announced plans to run for governor in 2010.